Scottish developers No Code Studio have made something of a meteoric rise over the last two years. Their first IF release, Stories Untold, was a retro-infused text adventure that managed to bridge the divide between old and new audiences by blending nostalgia for the bygone era of parser text adventures with AAA sensibilities and four genuinely scary stories.
They say timing is everything and with Stories Untold, its conceivable that No Code found themselves in the sweet spot. Netflix’s Stranger Things had debuted less than one year prior to their release and interest in 80’s aesthetics and artifact was at a fever pitch. Their package seemed tailor made to scratch the itch of anyone looking to continue basking in the afterglow of such a cultural moment.
But while Stories Untold was an indie hit, No Code are standing on the brink of becoming a bona fide mainstream contender with the release of their tent-pole follow-up, Observation, a science fiction thriller where the player takes on the role of a space station A.I. in order to solve the mystery of what happened to the crew and get the lead character home.
A haunting reveal trailer was released by Devolver Digital in October, 2018 and the game is currently slated for a Spring 2019 release on PS4 and PCs. Mainstream games journalists seemed primed for the launch and anticipation is at a fever pitch.
The question on our minds now is: will Observation take IF mainstream and encourage the world to dive into other, perhaps smaller, games on the market?
While it may seem obvious that 2001: A Space Odyssey inspired the concept, No Code’s Creative Director, Jon McKellan, has said that even more recent films — particularly in the found footage vein like — were even more influential. The space exploration thriller Europa Report for example was executed through CCTV footage and crew body cameras, and became a big inspiration for how Observation is expressed.
Other inspirations for Observation include Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity, and even the real-life International Space Station which was used extensively as a reference by the production team.
While there is a narrative through-line taking center stage in Observation, the game will also be chock full of puzzles revolving around the A.I S.A.M (ie. you) re-learning how to maintain the ship and unlock what happened to the crew.
One crucial piece of the Observation package that will make Interactive Fiction fans happy is that there will be no Game Over state which means players will need to live with the consequences of their decisions and choices until they reach the narrative’s conclusion.
A game that examines an evolving relationship between a human and an AI also feels very prescient and putting the player in the POV of a machine is a pretty novel twist. If Observation delivers on its premise, it may have thousands of gamers questioning how we might treat the A.I.s of the future if they ever come to exist.